Do We Really Love Them? The Changing Nature of Evangelism in China
Editor’s note: This summer we are looking at the topic of how evangelism is changing among Chinese. The following post is written by a Mainland Chinese pastor and his wife. They live in a major Chinese city and minister primarily among young Chinese urbanites. They have served in ministry for almost twenty years.
How is evangelism in China changing? This is a question we have really thought about a lot.
The first thing to understand is that the evangelism situation was pretty good in China five to ten years ago; but now, little by little, people’s hearts are more closed and it is harder and harder to share the gospel, especially on campus. People do not trust others so easily, and they do not open up easily with strangers. In our church, we have figured out that people are not so motivated to share their faith when they have not experienced great change in their own lives. If they feel a significant change, they will do it. But if they do not feel like God has changed their lives greatly, they will not be motivated to share with others.
Before, about ten years ago, it was very easy. If you brought a small booklet, like the Four Spiritual Laws, people were willing to listen to you. They were curious about what was in it. But now, if you directly share the Four Spiritual Laws, nobody really wants to listen, because they kind of know it. Somebody has already shared it with them. They think, “Oh, you want to introduce me to something, but I have no time and I’m not interested.” And they really hesitate to stop to listen. They feel like you are presenting a commercial or an advertisement, or maybe even propaganda. They will stop you and will not let you share with them.
But nowadays, out of one hundred people, maybe four will pray to receive Christ. In some good areas, maybe seven will do so; but in other areas it may be as low as less than one. So think about how much effort you must give to meet that one person after sharing with one hundred people.
We have also found that big evangelism programs are no longer very useful. Before at Christmas or Easter, we would have a big party and ask brothers and sisters to ask their friends to come. Most of the time the political situation was ok, so we could have a hundred or more people come to this one party. But now, the political situation is not the same, so they cannot allow such a big meeting where hundreds of people get together. But even if you could have a big gathering and a great time of sharing, people will still not easily come to the decision to pray to receive Christ these days.
Before when we would have a Christmas party and invite about one hundred people, at least twenty of them would pray to receive Christ. A lot of people would tear up when the presentation was given. But now we have big parties and not so many people come. Even if they do come, it’s hard for people to stand up and say they want to believe in Jesus. The rate is much lower. And the follow up rate has dropped, too. This is reality.
When we used to have such as event, we would print out some colorful flyers to give to others to introduce the gathering and invite them to join the activity. But one time our church made two thousand flyers to spread out. The first one thousand were handed out on the street and the campus. We used a lot of people to do that. But only one person showed up from the one thousand flyers we handed out. That was a big discouragement. Then when we tried to finish handing out the last one thousand, we got caught by the school’s guards. They said that we should not do that. Fortunately, they did not send our brothers and sisters to the police, but they destroyed the remaining one thousand papers that we were trying to use as evangelism material.
It is getting harder and harder to invite people to pray to receive Christ and be part of a congregation. We think there are many reasons for this.
They don’t feel connected with others, even their friends and their classmates. They don’t communicate deeply or trust each other. This is true even between colleagues. They interact during working hours, but they don’t have deep conversations in their personal, private lives.
There is a lot of pressure on people in the situation in China. The work environment is such that people’s workloads are getting heavier and heavier, and they feel like all of their energy should be put into work or making money. So they feel very frustrated. If they have extra time, they will most likely want to do leisure things, or they want to play on their phones or do karaoke or eat great food in order to numb their feelings. They don’t want to talk about serious things. This is a big hindrance that everyone is facing. If you are talking about serious things, they think you are strange and they don’t want to feel pressure. They don’t want to face their spiritual situations.
For example, there is a great sister who is leading the choir in our church. She is very willing to share with others, but there is a lot of pressure in her work environment. She has tried to share directly with her colleagues. But she told me that she shared with at least ten people and no one responded.
We think that now is the time to build stronger discipleship [in China], because most people don’t have close relationships with parents or friends or anyone, including our brothers and sisters in Christ. The need is to learn how to build deep relationships so that these relationships can help people grow in trusting people. This is an opportunity for the church, and also a challenge. It is the responsibility of the church to learn how to help the brothers and sisters to counsel each other and help each other grow in Christ, not only in the truth or in their minds and the thinking level, but going deeper into the heart. We need to learn heart level communication. When people really care about each other’s lives, they will want to build each other up in Christ in a deeper way.
When people can break through and share deep things, they don’t only share the surface things such as “How are you doing?” and “I’m fine.” They can go deeper to the brokenness in this world and what we are facing in our lives. Then they will be bold enough to share their real life, and they can face challenges and pray together to see how God can change us by bearing each other’s burdens. If they practice that enough and really witness prayer and friendship in Christ, that brotherhood can really work among the fellowship, and then they learn the real thing. Hopefully through that, they learn how to share their lives and their testimonies with other people, using those experiences and testimonies to tell their friends how great God is. That is a powerful thing. It can help their friends to see that God really is different and the people who believe in God are different.
So evangelism is not only about using materials, or courses, or booklets, but we first build a relationship with others. It is not only a one-time event, but rather a lifestyle. It is a testimony lived out in front of others. If we cannot live out that life, our words will be empty and no one will really give us a chance to share what we really believe. People will have good reason to say, “You haven’t really experienced what you believe, so don’t share with us.”
God does not only want us to care about what we believe, but also to really care about the nonbeliever’s life and what they are experiencing. As a result, we think that community service is important for evangelism. If we can join some kind of club or serve as a volunteer in some organization, it will be helpful because we can then be part of society instead of having our own society in the church. If do not participate in society, we are disconnected from other groups of people and they think we are separate.
Maybe we can be a small group – several brothers and sisters praying together and thinking about how to do evangelism together. This can show society how we love each other among the nonbelievers, instead of just one by one holding a booklet.
When we started thinking along these lines, our church leaders started really thinking that maybe our full time workers needed to learn something about community service. Maybe we first needed to try to be a volunteer so that we could experience and explore the evangelism situation and really be interested in helping the community and praying for it. There was a need to be genuine. We needed to not just see it as a way to share our message, but challenge ourselves to really care and really love the people in the community. We had to ask ourselves, “Do we really love them and care about them?”
Then we started to really do it ourselves, and we brought other brothers and sisters to experience it with us, too. We believe that God will use those experiences to build relationships so that we can really get to know how broken the nonbeliever’s life is. Hopefully God will use us and our open and trusting relationships among brothers and sisters to be a testimony to show society the difference. This is important – not only to share the message, but to live out the message.
Many of the traditional ways of doing evangelism are no longer effective or safe. The best way is to live out your life and really care for other’s needs. Be a real person instead of sharing what they don’t care about or aren’t particularly interested in. When you live out a different life, and particularly when you live out a different life in a group, then that is a great testimony. Maybe people will be interested in knowing why, and that is a better preparation for God’s word to be working in their lives.
We are totally not experts at this at all, but we are trying to change into a new direction and we are still figuring it out. We look for good examples of people doing this among the Chinese church, or even among from the other churches. How are others doing outreach, and how they care about others in a deeper and better and freer way instead of just creating activities and doing evangelism? We are really trying to live our lives out so that God can use our lives to attract others. So we are still learning and we are changing our minds. Please pray for us.